Developer to appeal Smyrna’s denial of $40M living complex
by Nikki Wiley
December 12, 2013 11:56 PM | 2399 views | 6 6 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Special to the MDJ
Special to the MDJ
An Atlanta developer plans to file a court appeal against the city of Smyrna by the end of the year alleging the City Council violated its constitutional rights when it denied a controversial $40 million apartment development.

Branch Capital Partners will file an appeal in Cobb Superior Court against the city following the contentious denial of its proposed 288-unit apartment complex containing 25,000 square feet of retail space, said Garvis Sams, an attorney with Marietta-based Sams, Larkin and Huff who represents the company.

The development was intended for the corner of Atlanta Road and Spring Street where Jonquil Plaza once stood.

In 2006, a $181 million mixed-use development was planned for the site including 20,000 square feet of office space, 160,000 square feet of retail space, 300 luxury condominiums and an underground parking deck. The property changed hands several times since the first proposal.

The city’s denial of a site plan amendment that would have allowed the project to move forward was done in violation of constitutional rights, Sams said. That’s because under the current zoning, Sams said, a developer is required to follow the original plans that called for a project more than four times the size of Branch’s development.

Residents and some council members expressed support for the original plan and were opposed to Branch’s plan because it included less retail space.

“In light of the current market, the retail market, it’s a constitutional prohibition in that the property owner and applicant are suffering what the law calls significant economic detriment because there’s no way in this market that anyone would develop 180,000 square feet of retail,” Sams said.

Sams said that kind of project would “self destruct” and maintains the opposition surrounding the project was born from a misunderstanding about the kind of apartments that would be built. Some residents were concerned about more rental units after the city spent millions of dollars to tear down aging and dilapidated apartments officials said were a drain on the city’s law enforcement and code enforcement resources.

Once Branch files its appeal, the city will have 30 days to respond. A judge will decide if the city’s current zoning is constitutional or unconstitutional and could order city officials to allow the development to move forward, but a judge would not be able to arbitrarily change the city’s zoning code.

Council split on support for project

It was a 4-3 vote on Dec. 2 that stopped Branch’s development in its tracks. Following hours of public comment and discussion among council members, Council members Ron Fennel, Melleny Pritchett and Teri Anulewicz voted in favor of the project.

Council members Wade Lnenicka, Andrea Blustein, Charles Welch and Susan Wilkinson voted against the development.

Blustein says it wasn’t just one issue but a number of factors that led to her vote. Those factors include limited parking space and changing conditions in the area following the news the Atlanta Braves plan to move to a new site in 2017 just a few miles away from the proposed development.

“As the gateway to our city there, I think a lot of people had concerns about it,” Blustein said.

She said she was also worried developers wouldn’t be able to rent the units with a price tag high enough to maintain the luxury amenities it promised. Developers touted the apartments as a breath of fresh air following the city’s problems with aging and crime-ridden apartments. It was to be “Class A” apartments with a large gym and swimming pool, wireless printers at every level and stainless-steel appliances renting for about $1,200 per month on average.

“There’s a huge development down at West Village, there’s some apartments being done off of Windy Hill, there are apartments behind or down the street from Cumberland Mall … it’s just like everywhere you look around there’s more and more apartments,” Blustein said.

Anulewicz supported the project and said there is a need for “high-quality” multi-family housing in Smyrna.

Young professionals are not buying homes at the rate they once were, she said, and need somewhere to live before they become confident in a community and make the jump into home ownership.

“They do get tired of living in their parent’s basement and they need somewhere to live,” Anulewicz said.

Smyrna faces a long-term problem, she maintains, with its lack of rental housing. Though many residents opposed the project and feared the apartments would deteriorate into slums, Anulewicz says that’s not true of the high-priced units proposed.

“If the lowest rent goes for $1,200 a month, well that’s not what people who make meth tend to gravitate toward,” Anulewicz said.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
December 14, 2013
I completely agree with rjsnh regarding Anulewicz. Very disappointed in her actions. If you were at the council meeting it was obvious that she has a different vision for Smyrna than that of the constituents she represents. Her points about millennial and renters make perfect sense for Old Fourth Ward or Midtown or Castleberry Hills, but make no sense for suburban community 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. Also, I encourage anyone that thinks West Village is a model for downtown Smyrna to visit the commercial area around 9 PM on weekend night. It is certainly not a family friendly atmosphere and quite frankly it doesn't feel safe.
March 26, 2014
No, phillst, you have a different vision than the new wealthy residents that have recently moved into Smyrna over the last 10 years. They want to see Smyrna become more "hip" and urban.

Hopefully, the 1 year wait will only improve chances of something more like the original plan being built.
December 13, 2013
Ron Fennel, Melleny Pritchett and Teri Anulewicz voted correctly on this issue! Well done!

I hope that Branch Capital Partners does well with this project.

Real Estate
December 13, 2013
Anyone who believes that this prime location should be a GATED apartment complex has very low expectations for Smyrna and does not represent the vast majority of residents.

But not to worry, this is a weak court case. Zonings are rarely overturned; courts do not care about the financial hardships of landowners and developers. Even the "highest and best use" for the property argument is a non-starter -- and this proposal isn't even the highest and best use! I'm very surprised that Sams, Larkin and Huff would burn bridges and risk their reputation over this poor plan.
December 13, 2013
Anulewicz is no longer representing the interests of her voters or Smyrna residents at large. She obviously lacks a very good understanding of Smyrna's past or its citizens hopes for the future. Had Smyrna's previous councils not imposed an apartment moratorium AND rid the community of many preexisting complexes, this would be an entirely different city today and one that would not have attracted the kind of residential growth it is now enjoying. Perhaps she would like to turn back the clock, but not me. And, if she and those that voted with her believe a big new apartment complex will raise existing and future home prices or encourage quality retail to locate her, then they are flat out wrong and too wrong headed to represent the voters in Smyrna.
March 26, 2014
fjsnh: Yeah, because new high-end apartments have done so much damage to Buckhead and midtown, right? Sheesh. Having an extremist view on things doesn't work. You have to take each case individually.
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